U.S. Bases in Lebanon

Great post from Sursock

A report in al-Safir newspaper on Thursday confirms all the worst fears about US intentions for Lebanon.

The US wants to set up a string of military bases in Lebanon.

Apprently a Pentagon delegation headed by undersecretary of defense Eric Edelman met with top-ranking Lebanese officials to dicuss gaining “a foot-hold in the strategic region of northern Lebanon”.

The delegation held meetings with Lebanese PM Siniora, defense minister Elias Murr and army chief Michel Suleiman.

The Pentagon tabled a request to establish bases in order to counterballance “Russian presence in northern Syria”, and according to one report, “the US policymakers are exploring new strategies to counter Russian show of military might.”

So that’s it, a return to the Cold War in which Lebanon becomes a battleground for Russian/US inperialism.

Apparently the US want a string of bases: one in the Christian region of Bsharri; one in the Bekaa (to cover Baalbek and the Hermel); and one in the plains of Damour south of Beirut.

Futhermore the US Air Force want to use the airstrip at Qoleiat, and two naval bases near Tripoli.

Al-Safir notes that the Americans also want radar stations in Qornet Sawda, Barouk and Dahr al-Baidar.

Apart from the fact that the area around Tripoli is “Salafi central”—and no doubt will become a protracted Iraq-like battleground between US troops and Lebanese/Palestinians— all the bases are less about the Russian Bear and more about encircling Hizbollah areas.

So we will have battles in the north, centre and south.

The report also reveals that the US wants the Lebanese army to abandon its neutrality towards the resistance and Syria— and no doubt a reassessment of Lebanese relations to Israel.

Along with this the US is a doubling military aid to the Lebanese army from $270 million to $500 million.

This shoddy deal shows that the March 14 movement (the ones that harp on about “independence”) are setting the country on a path to a grim, bloody and violent future.

The Middle East is now on the verge of several wars. Israel round II on Lebanon; US attack on Iran; US-Israeli attack on Syria; a Turkish invasion on Northern Iraq; Israeli reoccupation of the Gaza Strip; a gloves off fight for control of Lebanon; and now a US occupation of Lebanon.

Will the troops be landing at the beach in Khalde?

US Aid Dependency: The Road to Ruin for Lebanon

Protecting Lebanon according to the Bush administration is achieved by undermining its ability to fight Israel

 

Global Research, October 7, 2007

Electronic Lebanon – 2007-10-0

“We have received only a lot of promises and some ammunition but no equipment, as if they are telling us: Die first and back-up will arrive later.” -General Michael Sulieman, Lebanese Armed Forces, on US support during the summer-long Nahr al-Bared refugee camp battle

Since Israel’s July 2006 war on Lebanon, and up to the current deadlock over electing Lebanon’s next president, the Bush administration has gone out of its way to express its commitment to Lebanese “democracy” and to building a strong and sovereign country that can “stand up” to Syria’s and Iran’s allies within Lebanon’s borders.

Inside those borders, prime minister Fouad Siniora’s March 14 government and the Hizballah-led opposition are sharply split over Washington’s intentions. The March 14 movement has feverishly called on the capital of the “free world” for help and the movement’s civil-war seasoned leaders reassure the Lebanese that the superpower won’t abandon their “cedar revolution.” In response, opposition leaders reiterate their distrust of Israel’s closest ally and accuse its March 14 supporters of holding Lebanon hostage to its enemy’s best friend. In the fog of these accusations and counter-accusations, is it possible to evaluate Washington’s support to Lebanon without resorting to the polemics of either camp?

The true measure of the alliance of any two states or political groups rests on an accurate and fair reading of two forms of support: military aid and economic assistance, and reaching a verdict about these two forms of support is based on the examination of three properties of such aid: the monetary value (size or quantity) of this aid, the declared and hidden objectives of the aid and the conditions attached to it (the quality of the aid). Based on these criteria, what is the truth behind the US support for Lebanon, in numbers and according to Washington’s own sources?

Military Support

One of the main bones of contention between the government and the opposition in Lebanon is the disarming of Hizballah. The March 14 movement does not miss an opportunity to proclaim its intention to build a strong state capable of protecting the country’s borders (particularly the south). And the disarming of Hizballah, the Hariri-led movement claims, is a major step in that direction. So does American military aid provide a realistic alternative to Hizballah’s battle-proven power of deterrence?

From 1946 to June 2006, Lebanon did not receive any significant US military aid except in the years 1981 to 1984. This was the period when the Lebanese army’s official leadership was aligned with forces sympathetic to or allied with Israel, and more importantly it was a period of direct American military intervention in Lebanon. During this period, Lebanon received $148 million in military aid, an average of $37 million per year. This aid surpassed what the country had received in the entire 34 years that preceded; around $128 million (95 percent of this aid was in the form of loans not grants). After 1984 and the partial withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon, US military aid declined to its lowest levels (around half a million annually earmarked for training purposes).

The assassination of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri, contrary to what some might think, did not lead to a fundamental change in this aid policy. The Bush administration’s request was for just one million dollars in 2006 and around $4 million for 2007. The gigantic increase came on the heels of the summer 2006 Israeli war on Lebanon. In the wake of the war, the Bush administration filed an emergency request to congress to provide Lebanon with additional military support valued at $220 million for the single year of 2007.

What we learn from this is that any significant increase in US military aid to Lebanon is temporary and linked to the existence of internal divisions in Lebanon or the outbreak of regional wars or conflicts. And as such, this support is not the product of a strategic alliance akin to that forged between Hizballah and Iran. More importantly though, even when this aid is boosted, the objectives and conditions of its release are far from geared towards building a Lebanese military force capable of defending the sovereignty and territorial integrity of this tiny country.

One wonders about the nature of promises General Sulieman is referring to, but the only binding promises of the US are those stated in the legislative bills tabled by the administration and passed by Congress. And the purpose of budgeting the huge sum of $220 million requested by the Bush administration for this year is very clear in that regard. The State Department has unequivocally declared that the purpose of this aid is to “promote Lebanese control over southern Lebanon and Palestinian refugee camps to prevent them from being used as bases to attack Israel.” (US officials lobbied to spread the fight in Nahr al-Bared to other camps.)

Protecting Lebanon according to the Bush administration is achieved by undermining its ability to fight Israel, the biggest source of threat to Lebanon’s security, and the entity which attempted to invade it in the same year those aid packages were pledged.

Some might argue that America’s above-stated goal is meant to prevent any non-sate organization (Hizballah) from monopolizing the duty of defending Lebanon. But the conditions attached to the aid leaves no doubt that building any force, legitimate or otherwise, is impossible under constraints placed by the US. According to these conditions, any support to Lebanon’s army should be intended for “expanded personal training by private US contractors or provision of spare parts and ammunition for Lebanese forces,” as well as vehicles employed for logistical or patrol purposes. As for equipment and weapons normally used to defend any country’s territory, such as anti-aircraft missiles or tanks or even technologically primitive missiles such as Katyushas, such weapons are out of bounds according to the aid provisions. The administration calls it “non-lethal” assistance. In contrast, permitting Israel to invest a portion of US aid in domestic military research since 1977 was instrumental in the development of the Merkava tank, the primary weapon used for Israel’s land invasion of Lebanon last summer.

Counting on US military aid means transforming the Lebanese army at best to a peacekeeping or patrolling force and at worst an internally oppressive security force. This suggests that the only way to disarm Hizballah without stripping the people of southern Lebanon of the only effective defense force on their land is for the Lebanese government to seek assistance from US adversaries, the same ones possibly Hizballah is allied with.

Economic Aid

The history and present trend of US economic aid to Lebanon mirrors to a great degree that of its military aid. Again, the turning point for an astronomical increase of the aid (much of it remains a pledge) was the 2006 Israeli war on Lebanon and not the assassination of Hariri.

Prior to the 2006 war, American economic aid to Lebanon reached its zenith in the first half of the ’80s (around $53 million in 1983). Between 1986 and 2006, it ranged between $8 and $15 million. The annual aid package then jumped to about $35 million between 2000 and 2006 (the increase was partly an incentive for the Lebanese army to deploy in the south following the withdrawal of Israeli troops in 2000). In the wake of the 2006 war, Washington allocated about $180 million in emergency aid and later requested $300 million in supplemental aid. (Most of this aid was in the form of grants.)

The aid is ostensibly earmarked for post-war reconstruction, declared Washington. But the release of the funds is conditional on the the Siniora government successfully implementing a bundle of economic “reforms.” Indeed, even before Congress approved the aid package, Siniora declared his government’s intention to cut social security programs, privatize the electricity and telecommunications sectors, increase value added tax by two percent, and implement other measures he claimed were aimed to reduce Lebanon’s $40 billion national debt. Siniora’s effort to push through these measures however were met with strong popular resistance inside Lebanon that led him to reconsider the timing and strategy of implementing the “reforms.”

American economic aid to Lebanon was and remains part of neoliberal American policies across the globe that aim to construct an unregulated market-based economy by weakening the economic role of the very governments it purports to support.

US aid: Causes and consequences

How can one explain the US policy towards Lebanon?

First, Lebanon may be a “piece of the sky” according to its famous crooner Wadih Assafi, but in the eyes of US policy makers, it is a bargaining chip used to settle other regional conflicts. In fact, Lebanon does not possess any of the properties that constitute vital national interests to a superpower such as oil fields, international waterways or military bases. Hizballah may be the only serious threat.

In recorded history, only two US presidents described Lebanon using the rhetoric of the “national interest” –(Eisenhower in 1958 and Reagan in 1983). And both references coincided with direct US military intervention in Lebanon and not in the vein of drawing up a strategic vision of Lebanon’s place in foreign policy.

Secondly, The US does not trust two of three types of allies in the Middle East, the Siniora government among them.

The first type is that of political forces or governments that represent elites or particular religious or political communities and who exercise limited authority within countries or territories that suffer from partial or total instability. These countries include Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan and Lebanon. US military and economic aid to their allies in these countries is mostly symbolic, tactical or directed towards internal security and against the interest of the peoples or these countries.

The second category of allies is composed of governments or dictatorial regimes that represent their own interests over and above that of their people and rule in countries that are partially or totally stable. These countries include Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. US aid to this countries is more than symbolic, but often limited and subject to serious constraints.

The last category of US allies in the Middle East is that of governments that speak in the name of the interest of its own people (at least the majority) and rule in internally stable countries. These countries include Turkey and Israel. US aid to these countries makes a significant contribution to the military and economic performance of these countries.

Understanding US aid to Lebanon, and comparing it to similar patterns in Palestine and Iraq in light of this overall map of US aid to the region, leaves little doubt that Lebanese (and by extension Palestinian and Iraqi) politicians betting on the goodwill and unmatched power of Washington to build their country’s defenses, are doing so out of either unintentional or willful ignorance, and both are a recipe for further instability and a disregard for the safety and security of their people.

Hicham Safieddine is a Lebanese Canadian journalist. This is an edited version of an article that appeared recently in Arabic in the Lebanese newspaper
Al-Akhbar and is republished with permission.

Revisiting the summer war – A MUST READ

THIS IS A MUST READ.  Israeli press confess that ISRAEL started the war, not Hezbollah.  Any rational thinker knew this already, but now we have it in print.  Also that the UN cartographer has said the Shebaa farms are lebanese, therefore Israel still occupies Lebanon in violation of UN resolution 425 (although the UN seems to have been muzzled, see Franklin Lambs article for more info).

Jonathan Cook, Electronic Lebanon, Aug 16, 2007

Hizballah supporters hold a rally in south Beirut one year after Israel’s “Second Lebanon War.” Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah addressed the crowd of thousands from a remote location, 14 August 2007. (Matthew Cassel)

This week marks a year since the end of hostilities now officially called the Second Lebanon War by Israelis. A month of fighting — mostly Israeli aerial bombardment of Lebanon, and rocket attacks from the Shia militia Hizballah on northern Israel in response — ended with more than 1,000 Lebanese civilians and a small but unknown number of Hizballah fighters dead, as well as 119 Israeli soldiers and 43 civilians.

When Israel and the United States realized that Hizballah could not be bombed into submission, they pushed a resolution, 1701, through the United Nations. It placed an expanded international peacekeeping force, UNIFIL, in south Lebanon to keep Hizballah in check and try to disarm its few thousand fighters.

But many significant developments since the war have gone unnoticed, including several that seriously put in question Israel’s account of what happened last summer. This is old ground worth revisiting for that reason alone.

The war began on 12 July, when Israel launched waves of air strikes on Lebanon after Hizballah killed three soldiers and captured two more on the northern border. (A further five troops were killed by a land mine when their tank crossed into Lebanon in hot pursuit.) Hizballah had long been warning that it would seize soldiers if it had the chance, in an effort to push Israel into a prisoner exchange. Israel has been holding a handful of Lebanese prisoners since it withdrew from its two-decade occupation of south Lebanon in 2000.

The Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, who has been widely blamed for the army’s failure to subdue Hizballah, appointed the Winograd Committee to investigate what went wrong. So far Winograd has been long on pointing out the country’s military and political failures and short on explaining how the mistakes were made or who made them. Olmert is still in power, even if hugely unpopular.

In the meantime, there is every indication that Israel is planning another round of fighting against Hizballah after it has “learnt the lessons” from the last war. The new defense minister, Ehud Barak, who was responsible for the 2000 withdrawal, has made it a priority to develop anti-missile systems such as “Iron Dome” to neutralize the rocket threat from Hizballah, using some of the recently announced $30 billion of American military aid.

It has been left to the Israeli media to begin rewriting the history of last summer. Last weekend, an editorial in the liberal Haaretz newspaper went so far as to admit that this was “a war initiated by Israel against a relatively small guerrilla group.” Israel’s supporters, including high-profile defenders like Alan Dershowitz in the US who claimed that Israel had no choice but to bomb Lebanon, must have been squirming in their seats.

There are several reasons why Haaretz may have reached this new assessment.

Recent reports have revealed that one of the main justifications for Hizballah’s continuing resistance — that Israel failed to withdraw fully from Lebanese territory in 2000 — is now supported by the UN. Last month its cartographers quietly admitted that Lebanon is right in claiming sovereignty over a small fertile area known as the Shebaa Farms, still occupied by Israel. Israel argues that the territory is Syrian and will be returned in future peace talks with Damascus, even though Syria backs Lebanon’s position. The UN’s admission has been mostly ignored by the international media.

One of Israel’s main claims during the war was that it made every effort to protect Lebanese civilians from its aerial bombardments. The casualty figures suggested otherwise, and increasingly so too does other evidence.

A shocking aspect of the war was Israel’s firing of at least a million cluster bombs, old munitions supplied by the US with a failure rate as high as 50 percent, in the last days of fighting. The tiny bomblets, effectively small land mines, were left littering south Lebanon after the UN-brokered ceasefire, and are reported so far to have killed 30 civilians and wounded at least another 180. Israeli commanders have admitted firing 1.2 million such bomblets, while the UN puts the figure closer to 3 million.

At the time, it looked suspiciously as if Israel had taken the brief opportunity before the war’s end to make south Lebanon — the heartland of both the country’s Shia population and its militia, Hizballah — uninhabitable, and to prevent the return of hundreds of thousands of Shia who had fled Israel’s earlier bombing campaigns.

Israel’s use of cluster bombs has been described as a war crime by human rights organizations. According to the rules set by Israel’s then chief of staff, Dan Halutz, the bombs should have been used only in open and unpopulated areas — although with such a high failure rate, this would have done little to prevent later civilian casualties.

After the war, the army ordered an investigation, mainly to placate Washington, which was concerned at the widely reported fact that it had supplied the munitions. The findings, which should have been published months ago, have yet to be made public.

The delay is not surprising. An initial report by the army, leaked to the Israeli media, discovered that the cluster bombs had been fired into Lebanese population centers in gross violation of international law. The order was apparently given by the head of the Northern Command at the time, Udi Adam. A US State Department investigation reached a similar conclusion.

Another claim, one that Israel hoped might justify the large number of Lebanese civilians it killed during the war, was that Hizballah fighters had been regularly hiding and firing rockets from among south Lebanon’s civilian population. Human rights groups found scant evidence of this, but a senior UN official, Jan Egeland, offered succor by accusing Hizballah of “cowardly blending.”

There were always strong reasons for suspecting the Israeli claim to be untrue. Hizballah had invested much effort in developing an elaborate system of tunnels and underground bunkers in the countryside, which Israel knew little about, in which it hid its rockets and from which fighters attacked Israeli soldiers as they tried to launch a ground invasion. Also, common sense suggests that Hizballah fighters would have been unwilling to put their families, who live in south Lebanon’s villages, in danger by launching rockets from among them.

Now Israeli front pages are carrying reports from Israeli military sources that put in serious doubt Israel’s claims.

Since the war’s end Hizballah has apparently relocated most of its rockets to conceal them from the UN peacekeepers, who have been carrying out extensive searches of south Lebanon to disarm Hizballah under the terms of Resolution 1701. According to the UNIFIL, some 33 of these underground bunkers — or more than 90 percent — have been located and Hizballah weapons discovered there, including rockets and launchers, destroyed.

The Israeli media has noted that the Israeli army calls these sites “nature reserves;” similarly, the UN has made no mention of finding urban-based Hizballah bunkers. Relying on military sources, Haaretz reported last month: “Most of the rockets fired against Israel during the war last year were launched from the ‘nature reserves.'” In short, even Israel is no longer claiming that Hizballah was firing its rockets from among civilians.

According to the UN report, Hizballah has moved the rockets out of the underground bunkers and abandoned its rural launch pads. Most rockets, it is believed, have gone north of the Litani River, beyond the range of the UN monitors. But some, according to the Israeli army, may have been moved into nearby Shia villages to hide them from the UN.

As a result, Haaretz noted that Israeli commanders had issued a warning to Lebanon that in future hostilities the army “will not hesitate to bomb — and even totally destroy — urban areas after it gives Lebanese civilians the chance to flee.” How this would diverge from Israel’s policy during the war, when Hizballah was based in its “nature reserves” but Lebanese civilians were still bombed in their towns and villages, was not made clear.

If the Israeli army’s new claims are true (unlike the old ones), Hizballah’s movement of some of its rockets into villages should be condemned. But not by Israel, whose army is breaking international law by concealing its weapons in civilian areas on a far grander scale.

As a first-hand observer of the fighting from Israel’s side of the border last year, I noted on several occasions that Israel had built many of its permanent military installations, including weapons factories and army camps, and set up temporary artillery positions next to — and in some cases inside — civilian communities in the north of Israel.

Many of those communities are Arab: Arab citizens constitute about half of the Galilee’s population. Locating military bases next to these communities was a particularly reckless act by the army as Arab towns and villages lack the public shelters and air raid warning systems available in Jewish communities. Eighteen of the 43 Israeli civilians killed were Arab — a proportion that surprised many Israeli Jews, who assumed that Hizballah would not want to target Arab communities.

In many cases it is still not possible to specify where Hizballah rockets landed because Israel’s military censor prevents any discussion that might identify the location of a military site. During the war Israel used this to advantageous effect: for example, it was widely reported that a Hizballah rocket fell close to a hospital but reporters failed to mention that a large army camp was next to it. An actual strike against the camp could have been described in the very same terms.

It seems likely that Hizballah, which had flown pilotless spy drones over Israel earlier in the year, similar to Israel’s own aerial spying missions, knew where many of these military bases were. The question is, was Hizballah trying to hit them or — as most observers claimed, following Israel’s lead — was it actually more interested in killing civilians.

A full answer may never be possible, as we cannot know Hizballah’s intentions — as opposed to the consequences of its actions — any more than we can discern Israel’s during the war.

Human Rights Watch, however, has argued that, because Hizballah’s basic rockets were not precise, every time they were fired into Israel they were effectively targeted at civilians. Hizballah was therefore guilty of war crimes in using its rockets, whatever the intention of the launch teams. In other words, according to this reading of international law, only Israel had the right to fire missiles and drop bombs because its military hardware is more sophisticated — and, of course, more deadly.

Nonetheless, new evidence suggests strongly that, whether or not Hizballah had the right to use its rockets, it may often have been trying to hit military targets, even if it rarely succeeded. The Arab Association for Human Rights, based in Nazareth, has been compiling a report on the Hizballah rocket strikes against Arab communities in the north since last summer. It is not sure whether it will ever be able to publish its findings because of the military censorship laws.

But the information currently available makes for interesting reading. The Association has looked at northern Arab communities hit by Hizballah rockets, often repeatedly, and found that in every case there was at least one military base or artillery battery placed next to, or in a few cases inside, the community. In some communities there were several such sites.

This does not prove that Hizballah wanted only to hit military bases, of course. But it does indicate that in some cases it was clearly trying to, even if it lacked the technical resources to be sure of doing so. It also suggests that, in terms of international law, Hizballah behaved no worse, and probably far better, than Israel during the war.

The evidence so far indicates that Israel:

  • established legitimate grounds for Hizballah’s attack on the border post by refusing to withdraw from the Lebanese territory of the Shebaa Farms in 2000;
  • initiated a war of aggression by refusing to engage in talks about a prisoner swap offered by Hizballah;
  • committed a grave war crime by intentionally using cluster bombs against south Lebanon’s civilians;
  • repeatedly hit Lebanese communities, killing many civilians, even though the evidence is that no Hizballah fighters were to be found there;
  • and put its own civilians, especially Arab civilians, in great danger by making their communities targets for Hizballah attacks and failing to protect them.


It is clear that during the Second Lebanon War Israel committed the most serious war crimes.

Jonathan Cook, a journalist based in Nazareth, Israel, is the author of Blood and Religion: The Unmasking of the Jewish and Democratic State (Pluto Press, 2006). His website is www.jkcook.net.

Franklin Lamb: Whos Behind the Fighting in North Lebanon

Great article I advise everyone to read.

Wearing a beat-up ratty UNCHR tee-shirt left over from Bint Jbeil and the Israeli-Hezbollah July probably helped. As did, I suspect, the Red Cross jersey, my black and white checkered kaffieyh and the Palestinian flag taped to my lapel as I joined a group of Palestinian aid workers and slipped into Nahr el-Bared trying not to look conspicuous.

Our mission was to facilitate the delivery of food, blankets and mattresses, but I was also curious about the political situation. Who was behind the events that erupted so quickly and violently following a claimed ‘bank robbery’?

Franklin Lamb: Whos Behind the Fighting in North Lebanon

Under the cover of fighting Salafi, Islamists fundamentalist in Lebanon’s Northern region [starting from Akkar via Tripoli to the Dinniyah-slopes], and after two years of hesitation, NATO decided to join the Lebanese territories to North-African & African coast military region, to establish Military airbases.

The Plan is a US-NATO Military Base in Tripoli, Lebanon

Nahr al-Bared: The Emerging Picture « The Fanonite

Thanks to the Fanonite for this great post.  Two other places to watch Democracy Now are Democracy TV and Chomsky Torrents 

Democracy Now! has extensive coverage of the developments in Lebanon today, with interviews with Seymour Hersh, Rania Masri and Alistair Crooke. Their analysis is somewhat similar to my own earlier impressions, however Hersh, Masri and Crooke do a much better job of dispatching some of the common misperceptions. I would recommend watching the whole program, but here are some highlights:

JUAN GONZALEZ: Lebanon’s defense minister has said Islamist militants entrenched in a Palestinian refugee camp must surrender or face further military action…The army has laid siege to the Nahr al-Bared camp since the fighting erupted on Sunday, bombarding it with tank fire and artillery shells. At least eighty people have died, with dozens more wounded.

On Wednesday, an informal ceasefire enabled thousands of residents to flee the camp. Some headed for another Palestinian refugee camp nearby, while others traveled to the neighboring city of Tripoli. The International Committee of the Red Cross estimates between 13,000 and 15,000 refugees have left Nahr al-Bared.

AMY GOODMAN: The Lebanese government accuses Fatah al-Islam of having ties with al-Qaeda and the Syrian government. But there’s another theory of who’s backing the militant group: the Lebanese government itself, along with the United States. Last March, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh reported in The New Yorker magazine that the US and Saudi governments are covertly backing militant Sunni groups like Fatah al-Islam as part of an overarching foreign policy against Iran and growing Shia influence…

SEYMOUR HERSH:There was a major change of policy by the United States government…[which] would join with the Brits and other Western allies and with what we call the moderate Sunni governments — that is, the governments of Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt — and with Israel to fight the Shia.

One of the major goals for America, of course, was the obsession the Bush White House has with Iran, and the other obsession they have is, of course…of Hezbollah, the Party of God…that’s so dominant in southern Lebanon…and whose leader Hassan Nasrallah wants to play a bigger political role and is doing quite a bit to get there and is in direct confrontation with Siniora.

[The obsession is not ‘American’ of course. It is a neocon obsession and the President, through the VP, are willing accomplices in the program]

And so, you have a situation where…the American-supported Sunni government headed by Fouad Siniora, who was a deputy or an aide to Rafik Hariri, the slain leader of Lebanon, that government has — we know, the International Crisis Group reported a couple years ago that the son Saad Hariri, the son of Rafik Hariri, who’s now a major player in the parliament of Lebanon…put up $40,000 bail to free four Sunni fundamentalists, Jihadist-Salafists — you know, this word “al-Qaeda” is sort of ridiculous — they were tied to jihadist groups. And God knows, al-Qaeda, in terms of Osama bin Laden, doesn’t have much to do with what we’re talking about. These are independently, more or less, you can call them, fanatical jihadists.

And so, the goal — part of the goal in Lebanon, part of the way this policy played out, was, with Saudi help [Prince Bandar mainly]…we began supporting some of these jihadist groups, and particularly — in the article, I did name Fatah al-Islam.

The idea was to provide them with some arms and some money and some basic equipment so — these are small units, a couple hundred people. There were three or four around the country given the same help covertly, the goal being they would be potential enemies of Hezbollah in case of warfare; in case Nasrallah decided to do something physical, get kinetic, in Lebanon, the Sunni Siniora government would have some very tough guys on its side, period. That’s the policy.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Sy Hersh, if that is true, then what has led to the current fighting now? If the Lebanese government had been backing the group, why is it now attacking it?

SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, first of all, the Lebanese army is very distinct…But based on common sense and what I’m reading, the Lebanese army has maintained an amazing sort of neutrality, which is surprising. The army has not been a pawn of the Siniora government…

There’s a stand-off politically right now, a very serious one, in Lebanon…it’s not a constitutional government, because Hezbollah, which had…five members of the cabinet and a dozen or so members in the parliament…pulled out months ago. And there were street protests…against Siniora. And right now, you have Hezbollah in league with a Christian leader named Aoun, a former chief of staff for the army…in an amazing partnership against the Siniora government…America clearly supports Siniora. But there’s a big brutal fight going….

So I think the story that we have is that there was a crime, and they were chasing people into one of the Palestinian camps, which are always hotbeds. God knows the Palestinians are the end of the stick, not only for the West, but also for the Arab world. Nobody pays much attention to them and those places. I’ve been to Tripoli and been into the camps, and they are seething, as they should be. You know, rational people don’t like being mistreated. And in any case, so what you have is, what seems to me, just a series — the word you could use is “unintended consequences.” …

Blaming Syria

And what is the laugh riot and the reason I’m actually talking to you guys…is because the American government keeps on putting out this story that Syria is behind the Fatah group, which is just beyond belief. There’s no way — it may be possible, but the chances of it are very slight, simply because Syria is a very big supporter, obviously, of Nasrallah, and Bashar al-Assad has told me that he’s in awe of Nasrallah, that he worships at his feet and has great respect for him. The idea that the Syrians would be sponsoring Sunni jihadist groups whose sole mission are to kill [Shia ‘apostates’ of Hizbullah]…Nothing can be ruled out, but that doesn’t make much case, and I noticed that in the papers today there’s fewer and fewer references to this. The newspapers in America are beginning to wise up, that this can’t be — this isn’t very logical. The White House is putting it out hot and heavy as part of the anti-Syria campaign, but it’s not flying, because it doesn’t make sense….

You might think that…one of the things that the Saudi Bandar had promised us was that we can control the jihadists. We can control them, he assured us…the same kind of assurances were given to us in the late 1980s, when we supported, as I said, bin Laden and others in the war against Russia, the Mujahideen war, and that, of course, bit us on the ass…

AMY GOODMAN: Seymour Hersh, what about the role of Vice President Dick Cheney, the Deputy National Security Advisor Elliott Abrams?

SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, you always — any time you have violent anti-Iran policy and anti-Shia policy, you have to start looking there. Look, clearly this president is deeply involved in this, too, but what I hear from my people, of course, the players — it’s always Cheney, Cheney. Cheney meets with Bush at least once a week. They have a lunch. They usually have a scheduled lunch. And out of that comes a lot of big decisions. We don’t know what’s ever said at that meeting. And this is — talk about being opaque, this is a government that is so hidden from us.

So I can’t — I can tell you that — you know, the thing that’s amazing about this government, the thing that’s really spectacular, is even now how they can get their way mostly with a lot of the American press. For example, I do know — and, you know, you have to take it on face value. If you’ve been reading me for a long time, you know a lot of the things I write are true or come out to be more or less true. I do know that within the last month, maybe four, four-and-a-half weeks ago, they made a decision that because of the totally dwindling support for the war in Iraq, we go back to the al-Qaeda card, and we start talking about al-Qaeda. And the next thing you know, right after that, Bush went to the Southern Command — this was a month ago — and talked, mentioned al-Qaeda twenty-seven times in his speech. He did so just the other day this week — al-Qaeda this, al-Qaeda that. All of a sudden, the poor Iraqi Sunnis, I mean, they can’t do anything without al-Qaeda. It’s only al-Qaeda that’s dropping the bombs and causing mayhem. It’s not the Sunni and Shia insurgents or militias. And this policy just gets picked up, although there’s absolutely no empirical basis. Most of the pros will tell you the foreign fighters are a couple percent, and then they’re sort of leaderless in the sense that there’s no overall direction of the various foreign fighters. You could call them al-Qaeda. You can also call them jihadists and Salafists that want to die fighting the Americans or the occupiers in Iraq and they come across the border. Whether this is — there’s no attempt to suggest there’s any significant coordination of these groups by bin Laden or anybody else, and the press just goes gaga. And so, they went gaga a little bit over the Syrian connection to the activities in Tripoli. It’s just amazing to me, you guys.

The View From Lebanon

AMY GOODMAN:Rania Masri, you’re in the camp where thousands of refugees from the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp have fled. What do you see there?

RANIA MASRI: I’ve been hearing this a lot in the Western press, that the violence that we are seeing right now in Lebanon is called the worst since the civil war. Unfortunately, that’s not quite true. The worst violence we had since the civil war was the Israeli war last year in July. So, if you can just remember this country has not healed from the July war last summer.

With that, …the Beddawi camp has approximately 15,000 refugees in it already. The number of refugees now in the Beddawi camp has almost doubled, because we have approximately 12,000 refugees from the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp…That alone could give you an idea of the amount of lack of goods that is now available in the camp. I mean, there is a lack of extraordinarily basic goods, be it medicine, be it foods, be it mattresses, be it anything. Every individual that we talk to, every agency that we talk to said the same thing, which is that the international agencies have not operated quickly enough to be able to respond to the presence of 12,000 refugees almost overnight in this already extraordinarily impoverished camp of the Beddawi camp. Approximately 25% of these refugees are going to schools. Another 75% are going to homes. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the aid, approximately 80% of the aid, is going to those individuals in the schools. 20% of aid is going to the 75% of the refugees in the homes, which means we are having an extraordinary lack of goods that are being given to the people most in need. When we look at the situation and when we keep in mind the ultimatum that’s been given by the minister of defense, which is this threat of actually invading the Nahr al-Bared camp, then we can envision at the very least that the number of refugees we now have in the Beddawi camp from the refugee camp, Nahr al-Bared, is probably going to increase. So as bad and as horrific as the situation is currently in the Beddawi camp, we are expecting it to actually get worse tomorrow.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And in terms of how the fighting is progressing in the Nahr al-Bared camp, what is the situation right now, as far as you can tell?

RANIA MASRI: Well, there has been a quote/unquote “truce” for almost a day and a half. But one thing I do want to emphasize with regard to the violence — and, again, this is based upon numerous amounts of eyewitness reports — that the violence isn’t simply extraordinarily indiscriminate heavy artillery coming from the Lebanese army into this — let me stress again — one of the most impoverished Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, which is the Nahr al-Bared camp; in addition to getting this heavy artillery from the Lebanese army, in addition to that, there is a third factor: there probably is an armed civilian camp, you know, group militia, that is operating outside of the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp, that is attacking both the refugees that are leaving, as well as lobbing sniper attacks into the camp itself. So not only do we have the Palestinians in the camp stuck between Fatah al-Islam, which is a non-Palestinian radical organization and the Lebanese army; they are also stuck between this third armed civilian militia group.

Hizbullah’s Stance

RANIA MASRI: The position of almost — almost — every single Lebanese political party…including Hezbollah, has been support for the Lebanese army. The Hezbollah leadership has made gentle requests that the civilians on both sides of the conflict, Lebanese and Palestinian, not be harmed, that there be attempts to try to minimize the loss of civilian life. But the response from almost all Lebanese politicians and all the Lebanese political parties is support behind the Lebanese army.

And here, and I want to add something to the comments that Seymour Hersh made. This is being presented — this conflict is being presented by, I would say, a strong segment of both the Lebanese population and almost all the Palestinians within the refugee camps as a conspiracy against both the Lebanese and the Palestinians and as a conspiracy that includes within it a conspiracy against the Lebanese army.

Alistair Crooke on Fatah al-Islam

ALASTAIR CROOKE: I think it’s probably worth, for your listeners, just to understand a little bit more about the nature of this group. Although it came from Syria into Lebanon and it came from a group that was associated with Palestinians — its name was Fatah also — and was an old mainly Palestinian group that existed in Syria from the days of the Oslo Accord, what we have in Lebanon is something quite unrelated to the Palestinian issue. This is an extreme Sunni group. It’s a Salafi group, as Seymour described it, which means that their main characteristic is not concern about Palestine or a Palestinian state, but their main concern is their antagonism and their hatred for the Shia. And I think the reason that we saw them in Lebanon probably had something to do also with the conflict this summer, that took place last summer with Israel, and the aftermath of that, which seemed to presage an internal conflict within Lebanon, possibly between the Shia and the Sunnis and with Christians involved, as well. In other words, there was a real fear at some stages that Lebanon could be tipping back toward civil war. And I think in this context, therefore, this group, which is virulently anti-Shia, came across with the idea of defending the Sunnis.

Of those that have been killed in this group so far, not one of them has been Palestinian. It’s true that the leader is Palestinian, but the other members of it that have been taken so far have turned out to be Saudi, Tunisian, Yemeni and Lebanese, but not Palestinians. So they ended up in this refugee camp — they forced their way in; there’s not much refugees can do when 200 determined and armed men enter your camp — and eventually set up a little satellite area of their own, adjacent to the camp. So I think that’s the context that you have to see this. And I think some Sunnis in Lebanon welcomed their arrival, if you like, as potential reinforcement. If you wanted someone to take on the ranks of Hezbollah, which is a Shia movement, then here was a determined group who hated them that could be co-opted on the basis of your enemy’s enemy is your friend. So I think this is very much the way in which to see what happened. And I think it’s quite true what Seymour said: in a sense, it’s a reflection of a wider policy…I think the rhetoric and the language that is being used by the United States and by Europe, in some cases, of trying to encourage, if you like, Sunni fears about a Shia threat and a Shia menace, the axis of or the crescent of Shia, a threat that faces the region, gives the opportunity and gives a space to these sort of groups to emerge and quite often ends with them getting the support and the financial resources that they require.

Nahr al-Bared: The Emerging Picture « The Fanonite

Reclaiming space Hersh: Lebanon violence US-Saudi-Lebanese government blowback «

In an interview for CNN International, Seymour Hersh has posited a blowback explanation to the current violence in Lebanon involving new group Fatah al-Islam (see appended video clip and transcript):

“We’re in the business now of supporting the Sunnis anywhere we can against the Shia; against the Shia in Iran, against the Shia in Lebanon, that is Nasrallah … the Arabic word for it is ftna, civil war. We’re in a business of creating, in some places, Lebanon in particular, sectarian violence. …

What it is very simply is a covert program we joined in with the Saudis as part of a bigger broader program of doing everything we could to stop the spread of the Shia, the Shia world, and it just simply bit us in the rear, as it’s happened before.”

In an article entitled The Redirection, Hersh reported in March of a policy shift in US policy toward the Middle East that would oppose Iran, Syria, and their Shia allies (most significantly, Hezbollah) at any cost, even if it meant backing hardline Sunni jihadists. Vice President Dick Cheney, Deputy National Security Advisor Elliot Abrams, and Saudi national security adviser Prince Bandar bin Sultan reportedly settled on a policy whereby the Saudis would covertly fund the Sunni Fatah al-Islam in Lebanon, to serve as a counterweight to the Shia Hezbollah.

In the past couple of days, Hezbollah has released a statement in support of the Lebanese Army and has called for a political solution to the crisis. In a press release they have said: “We feel that there is someone out there who wants to drag the army to this confrontation and bloody struggle … To serve well-known projects and aims.” The Palestinian Fatah party have also distanced themselves from their newly formed (est 2006) namesake, Fatah al-Islam (as have the Syrian Government), calling them a “gang of criminals” according to Robert Fisk. Fisk’s own analysis seems to look elsewhere than Hersh’s thesis, though significantly he also rejects the Syrian blamecasting as “too simple.”

Though I do not find Hersh’s articulation of the fear of Hezbollah in Washington very plausible (whether he is claiming that it is genuinely held or simply propagated is not entirely clear), so far these explanations certainly make more sense than official government declamations of defeating terrorism from the Lebanese and US administrations. Unfortunately some will still buy into the framing of this conflict as a cartoonish existential fight between freedom and terrorism.

An important missing link in Hersh’s otherwise viable explanation is the absence of Israel’s neocons and their wish to see Hezbollah undermined, if not destroyed, in these covert ops.

It also comes as a US government plot to assassinate the Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has been reported (even as the State Department “reaffirms its policy against targeted assassinations” in relation to Israel’s ops against Hamas, in particular by targeting Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh).

For a transcript see –

Reclaiming space Hersh: Lebanon violence US-Saudi-Lebanese government blowback «

Blacksmiths of Lebanon: Army Aide

Interesting post by Blacksmiths Jade, I wonder what future war all this military equipment is intended for?  Civil war?  My guess is that the US would rather see Lebanese fight its enemy Hezbollah than its partner Israel.  Makes better PR…

This is a post I started preparing some time ago. In light of recent developments I thought it would be a good time to publish it with the following updates reflecting the current situation:

  • Arab League Secretary General, Amr Moussa, revealed yesterday that some Arab states had already begun delivery of weapons and ammunitions in support of the Lebanese Army’s efforts to combat an insurgency launched in the Nahr el-Bared camp by Syrian-sponsored fundamentalist group, Fatah al-Islam.

  • The Unites States has prepared an emergency $280 million military aide package in response to an urgent request by the Lebanese government in light of its confrontation with gunmen in the Nahr el-Bared camp. Reports indicate that $220 million of the funds have been earmarked for the Army while $60 will go to the ISF.

Below you will find (a portion of) the original post.

Lebanese Army Equipment Upgrades:

  • Delivered
  1. 50 Land Rover utility vehicles from the UK
  2. 20 (of 285) Humvees from the US,
  3. 9 Gazelle helicopters from the UAE
  4. 5 10-meter naval patrol craft from the UAE
  5. 5 15-meter naval patrol craft from the UAE
  • Forthcoming
  1. $39 million in 2006 used to purchase 12 5-tonne trucks, 4 Bell 212 helicopters and repair of Lebanese Air Force’s 23 Bell UH-1H helicopters
  2. 45 Leopard-1 Tanks from Belgium
  3. A minimum of 20 M109 155 mm self-propelled Howitzers from Belgium
  4. 2 36-meter naval patrol craft with blue-water capability from Germany
  5. 265 Humvees from the US

(Primary Source)

Blacksmiths of Lebanon: Army Aide